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SAG-AFTRA leaders tout new global treaty on performers' rights

June 26, 2012|By Richard Verrier
  • Screen Actors Guild National President Ken Howard and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists President Roberta Reardon hold up a placard announcing the merger of their unions at the SAG headquarters in Los Angeles.
Screen Actors Guild National President Ken Howard and American Federation… (Damian Dovarganes / Associated…)

The union representing Hollywood’s actors hailed a landmark international treaty that officials said would provide important “economical and moral rights” for actors and other performers around the world.

SAG-AFTRA, which has more than 160,000 members, said actors would stand to benefit from a treaty signed by dozens of countries Tuesday at a conference in Beijing held by the World Intellectual Property Organization, a United Nations agency in Geneva.

If ratified, as many as 60 countries would be required to set up systems guaranteeing actors and other performers would be compensated for the reuse of their work. That could, over the next five to 10 years, significantly boost royalty payments for actors from countries in Asia, Africa and South America that don’t currently have such laws.

The treaty also provides actors with legal protections by, among other things, making it easier for actors to seek legal claims against the unauthorized use of their material. Unlike writers and directors, actors have never had such rights secured under an international treaty.

“Actors and other audiovisual performers have long needed the crucial protections of this treaty, and now we can finally have them," SAG-AFTRA co-presidents Ken Howard and Roberta Reardon said in a statement. "With new rights to proper compensation for the use of our works and control over the use of our images and likenesses, actors will have important tools to protect themselves around the world.’’

Passage of such a treaty has been a longstanding priority for the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, which merged this year into a single union.

SAG officials began discussions on the treaty in the mid-1990s, but the efforts were stalled by disputes between artists and producers. Among other things, major studios were concerned that such a global agreement would change how they compensate actors in the U.S. To help break the logjam, SAG-AFTRA officials agreed that the treaty would not affect the so-called work-for-hire doctrine in the U.S., in which producers, not actors, own the rights to their material.

The treaty was approved after five days of meetings in Beijing between various performers groups, including SAG-AFTRA, the Motion Picture Association, and a U.S. diplomatic delegation led by Justin Hughes, senior advisor to the undersecretary of commerce. The treaty must be ratified by at least 30 countries in order to take effect, a process that could take a year or more.

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